Robotic speedboats could soon replace human lifeguards in ensuring the safety of thousands of people during busy periods in Tian’e Lake in Hefei, China.
Designed to detect moving targets, the automatic boats are equipped with a GPS, cameras, and acoustic and infrared sensors, with the ability to alert swimmers to move into safer parts of the water, when hitting danger zones. Those struggling and in danger in the water can also grab onto the boat and be brought back to shore, as the patrol boat uses sonar and other underwater detectors to track the location of the swimmer and alert assistance.
The self-driving motorboat is part of a safety system that comprises of approximately 20 optical and infrared sensors, as well as a radio transmitter, built along the shore of Tian’e Lake – dividing the large body of water (172-acres) into safe and dangerous sectors. In addition to the patrol boat, the 33 lifeguards positioned at the lake are also assisted with three drones, which can deliver personal flotations devices, food and medical supplies to those in distress.
Since 2004, there have been 66 deaths caused by drowning in the lake, with lifeguards struggling to keep up with the thousands of people who frequent the lake during busy periods. Since the use of the robotic speedboat in November 2016, there have been no casualities in Tian’e Lake.
Robots are adding a new dimension to the maritime industry, being able to perform a variety of crucial jobs that improve safety, security, and efficiency aboard vessels.
While China are investing further resources into building self-driving motorboats for the military, other countries around the world are discovering the importance of using robots to carry out important tasks at sea and on shore. This includes the UK Royal Navy which is trialing autonomous patrol boats. In Ireland, autonomous drones are increasingly being used for search-and-rescue operations along the Atlantic coast, and unmanned lifebuoys are being utilised to assist the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean.
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